At the time of this writing, the razor-thin voting margin between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump has made the purple state of Florida too close to call. Although it could shift before all of the votes are counted, as it currently stands, the number of votes for third-party candidates in Florida is perilously close to the gap between Clinton and Trump. Third-party candidates, in other words, could have a big impact on this election, but not in the way they probably anticipated.
Again, it's still too close to call in Florida, and with the state's dramatic history in presidential elections, there could be a complete upset on the horizon. But if the state swings for Trump or Clinton with the kind of numbers that it's currently reporting, then it could have come down to the third-party voters. The combined percentage of votes for Green Party candidate Jill Stein and libertarian Gary Johnson, as it stands right now is 3.2 percent. Trump is leading Clinton 49 percent to 47.8 percent, or a 1.2 percent difference. In other words, those votes that could have gone to Clinton, rather than Stein or Johnson, could have completely changed the way that this is currently shaking out.
This, ultimately, could reignite a debate about the merit of the "protest" vote. As The New York Times notes, the three third-party candidates, Johnson, Stein, and Evan McMullin (who is not on the ballot in Florida), made a final pitch to voters on Tuesday to vote for someone, not against someone. That's a noble idea, but for many voters the entire premise of 2016 is not necessarily supporting a candidate, but openly despising another. Third-party candidates are likely holding out hope that the people who casted ballots for them weren't just avoiding casting a vote for either of the major party candidates. But unfortunately, that probably wasn't the case.
Early speculation about the race point to people like Stein as a sort of Ralph Nader-type candidate. In the Gore-Bush race, many people chalk up Gore's loss in Florida, and ultimately the election, to Nader's candidacy.
All of that is up for debate. But for older Democrats, the sting of Nader's effect on the 2000 election has not been forgotten. As Bill Scher wrote for Real Clear Politics:
Polls show that many Bernie Sanders voters say they will withhold their support for Hillary Clinton, and that’s exactly how likely Green Party nominee Jill Stein wants it. She is tailoring her rhetoric to woo their votes, and in the process is rejecting claims that her campaign will be a “spoiler” candidacy, splitting the left and electing Donald Trump.
Suddenly, Stein's rejection of that claim seems shortsighted.